Category Archives: Volunteers

What am I supposed to do?

Teach-Girls-End-World-PovertyI recently had a fascinating conversation with a sharp young leader. They had just returned from an amazing vacation in the Caribbean. The food, the scenery, the weather, the company; everything was perfect. They were incredibly grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this vacation of a lifetime, but one they were overwhelmed by the economic gulf between them and the people who served at the resort. The shacks, the broken down roads, and the abject poverty were heart breaking. They could not shake the disconnect of experiencing opulent luxury surrounded by crippling need. They stopped in the middle of sharing their experience, looked at me with deep sincerity and asked, “What am I supposed to do?”

Their perspective is refreshing. They aren’t mired in the guilt of having more. They aren’t caught in the misguided trap of feeling better than or worse than the people they met. They see a need and know they must act. Rather than ignoring the pain or reacting to the cause they are simply asking, “What am I supposed to do?”

I saw this look on my wife’s face when she returned from her first visit to a school for AIDS orphans in a tiny village in Kenya. Everyone on her team was moved by what they saw, but my wife knew she had to act. She could not simply send money, or make return visits, she had to make a difference. She had to answer the question, “What am I supposed to do?” She formed a board for the school, revamped their sponsorship program, revitalized the fund raising and changed the future trajectory of the school.

Every day we are inundated with need. Children in Africa, refugees in Europe, immigrants in America. It is easy to become deaf to the cry of human desperation all around us; we can’t help everyone. But we can help some. Jesus didn’t heal all blindness, but he gave sight to the blind man on the road to Jericho. He didn’t restore every crippled limb, but he healed the lame man by the pool of Bethesda. He didn’t raise everyone from the dead, but he brought the widow’s son back to life. Rather than being callous or overwhelmed Jesus always cared for the one in front of him.

Imagine the impact, as we see needs both overwhelming and insignificant, if we asked that simple question, “What am I suppose to do?” You may decide to sponsor a child, or start a ministry, or volunteer at food bank. You may decide to raise money, or start a prayer chain, or tutor a middle schooler. The reality is that we can all do something in Jesus’ name, and together our force for good is overwhelming.

What AM I supposed to do?

Three keys to a healthy volunteer culture

iStock_000017831326Large-1024x768As I shared yesterday, the number one question my wife and I hear from  church leaders all over the world is, “How can we find enough volunteers?” The primary reason most church struggle attracting enough volunteers is they recruit to need. A good appeal to need will impact 20% of the people, a great appeal will impact 25%. The key to having an abundance of volunteers isn’t better appeals, the key is creating a healthy volunteer culture.

Today we’ll look at the three elements present in any healthy volunteer culture.


My wife tells a story Sue Miller shared several years ago that continues to impact her view of working with volunteers. Sue told of attending a mandatory meeting for parents of players on a youth baseball team. When the coach began talking about this year’s fund raising drive you could feel the air go out of the room. The coach, however, surprised the parents. He didn’t talk about the amount of money they needed to raise, nor did he show them samples of wrapping paper or candy catalogues and explain the fundraiser. He talked instead about baseball changing the trajectory of his life as a young man, and what an impact he believed this team would have on their son’s lives. By the time he finished painting a picture of the potential future Sue said she, along with most of the families in the room, we’re eager to participate in the fundraiser. The coach began with vision rather than need.

Its interesting when Jesus looked for volunteers at the beginning of his ministry he issued a challenge rather than an appeal. One day while he was on a walk beside the Sea of Galilee Jesus came across Peter and Andrew casting a fishing net. After watching them work for a few minutes he walked over and said, “Come, follow me, and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” He didn’t mention the needs of the ministry, describe the tasks that had to be accomplished or assure them the volunteer position wouldn’t take up too much time. Jesus invited them into something that would change their lives.

What would happen if, rather than focusing on how many volunteers you need, you focused instead on the potential life change that will happen through the ministry you lead? Ministry leaders who lead healthy volunteer cultures effectively connect the dots between the task at hand and a transformed future. 


As part of a small group campaign at our church in South Carolina every group was challenged to take an outreach project in our community. After much discussion our group decided to adopt a nursing home in the poorest part of the city. We began visiting the nursing home regular doing things like yard maintenance, giving Christmas presents and repeatedly cleaning urine off an outside wall (Don’t ask). This was not my idea of a good time. I prefer spending my Saturday mornings, well, doing anything but visiting a nursing home in the ‘hood. I went, however, because my tribe was going. Relationship, much more than need, was the driving factor.

We consistently miss the power of tribe in church. We focus on the ministry that needs to be accomplished rather than the relationships on the team. Volunteers who feel like a part of a tribe that is changing the world rather than an unpaid employee accomplishing a task will do almost anything the team needs done. Rather than recruiting to need we need to recruit to relationship, and then follow through on that promise.


If people never find a place of selfless service they will never find their true purpose in life. Every reputable mental health expert understands this fundamental law of the universe; the only path to wholeness is through serving. As long as we focus on ourselves and our needs we will never truly be happy; materialism, greed and selfishness rot the soul. We were created with a deep seated need to serve each other.

As ministry leaders we  have to remind people often that Jesus’ example of service is the path to peace and wholeness we are all looking for. We demonstrate it in our own lives and share stories of others who find purpose through serving.

What about your church?

A ministry that connects the dots to a preferred future, connects team members in deep relationships and helps people find their true purpose through serving will discover an abundance of volunteers. As you evaluate the ministry you lead how are you doing at casting vision? Are you creating an environment for healthy team relationships? Are you demonstrating a life of purpose through service?

The reason you can’t find volunteers

appeal_deniedRecently on a beautiful drive Sherry and I were comparing notes on what makes a healthy ministry volunteer culture. (Some couples talk about vacations, some about retirement, we brainstorm ministry ideas; that’s just how we roll.) Working with ministries around the world the one question we hear more than any other is, “How do you find good volunteers?” Almost every church is desperate to find more children’s workers, parking lot attendants, ushers, small group leaders and dozens of other volunteer positions. As we drove through the beauty of the Rocky Mountains in early spring we agreed on two basics:

Most churches can’t find enough volunteers because they recruit to the wrong thing

Having an abundance of volunteers is driven by a healthy volunteer culture.

Let’s look first at recruiting. Whether they intend to or not almost every church appeals to need. The church NEEDS volunteers. We need people to watch children, to hand out bulletins, to count the offering, to lead small groups, to play in the band. We can’t do what we do without volunteers. Imagine what church would be if we didn’t have volunteers; we’d have to shut down programs and change how we do church. We appeal to people’s sense of duty, or to their guilt. We parade the needs of others in front of members hoping they will feel the need to step up to the plate. We remind the congregation that only 20% of the people do 80% of the work of the church.

As it turns out recruiting to need is effective with about 20% of the people who attend your church. If you are really effective, you may get to 25%. The challenge is we are inundated with needs every day. We drive past people with cardboard signs describing their needs. We are challenged at the grocery checkout line to donate to needy children. On TV Sarah McLachlan shows us pictures of sad animals, pleads with us to meet their needs as she sings “In the Arms of the Angels” (I’m not sure who’s in the angels’ arms, but it seems very sad). There are only so many needs we can care about, much less meet, so we draw the line somewhere. For most people the needs at church are low on the list of things they care about enough to help fill, so the appeal to need falls on deaf ears.

If your church or ministry is struggling to find enough volunteers are you trying to recruit by appealing to need? In the word of the great theologian Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?” The alternative to recruit to need is to build a healthy volunteer culture. Its is slower and harder, but is really the only path to accomplishing God’s mission through your ministry. Tomorrow we’ll look at the three crucial building blocks of a healthy volunteer culture.